If you’ve been out and about anywhere in the last couple of weeks you’ll have seen the delicious sight of thousands of berries weighing down the trees and bushes. Over the weekend the Telegraph has run an article on the bumper crop this year, and it’s no different here in Warwickshire. We have a long wet winter followed by weeks of gorgeous summer (excluding August!) to thank for all this, and if you haven’t been out foraging yet you definitely should. I spent a wonderfully therapeutic afternoon yesterday out on one of our nature reserves picking blackberries. It’s the perfect way to soak up the sunshine; to tune out from the world in a beautiful place and focus only on filling a box to the brim with luscious ripe fruit.
This abundance of berries is fantastic for wildlife – birds, mammals and insects will all feast on the fruit and hopefully winter will be a little easier for them as a result. There is of course an obvious point to be made about sharing your harvest with wildlife. The best practice is never to pick everything, and to pick little and often along your walk. Picking too much from one plant damages the plant’s ability to spread its seeds so make sure that you leave plenty. However in a bumper year, with plenty of fruit out of reach or stuck in the middle of a spiky blackberry bush, there should be more than enough to go around.
And what did I do with the fruits (literally) of my labour? Well I made a cake of course! To be more precise, I made a blackberry, lemon and yoghurt tea loaf using this recipe from the lovely people at Yeo Valley. It is 100% delicious; light and crumbly lemon drizzle cake with the glorious addition of free blackberries.
There’s something really exciting about taking locally sourced, wild ingredients and cooking with them. Especially when you make something traditional like rosehip syrup – it feels like returning to a previous way of life. Plus it keeps your colleagues on your good side!
I’ve got to give a quick shout out to the Hedgerow River Cottage Handbook. As I learn more about the subject it’s rapidly becoming my bible, and it’s a very funny read too. You’ll be hooked in no time.
A couple of quick warnings before I go – the most important things to remember if you’re out foraging:
- We all know what blackberries look like but it’s not always that easy. If you’re at all unsure what a plant or berry is then don’t eat it – there are some very poisonous plants out there and some are easily mixed up with the ones that are safe. Try to take someone with you who knows what they’re doing and always play it safe.
- Observe the law – there are specific laws around picking wild plants and fruit. Make sure you’ve read it through before you go out. There’s a very handy blog post from the National Trust on the subject here.
Neither of those warnings should put you off though. Foraging is a really rewarding pastime, connecting you to food and the land in a way that it’s all too easy to lose these days. Knowing what you’re doing is very important, but it shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the experience. And the end results… well after a hard day’s wander on a nature reserve everyone needs a slice of cake…